Cherokee Bluff’s Jayquan Smith has the world at his fingertips because of years and years of making good decisions.
The senior running back has football talent that has college coaches eager for his services the next four years.
And his academic standing is strong, carrying a 3.8 GPA and lofty plans for his college career with a challenging major that is yet to be determined.
The two paths intersected in the summer of 2021 when an official scholarship offer came in from Yale.
“It was pretty mind-boggling to get an offer from Yale,” Smith said. “It made me feel reassured for all the hard work I’ve done.”
On top of all that, Smith, who has more almost 400 rushing yards so far this season for the Bears (4-0), is an empathetic soul who looks out for others and cares about all of his teammates.
So, the way things stand now, his parents, Tanisha and Hensel Smith Jr., will not have to pay a dime for Jayquan’s college education.
The combination of Smith’s academics background, football prowess and off-the-field character has a list of 11 mid-level Division I programs already offering him a scholarship to college.
“Jayquan has a keen understanding of what’s right and wrong,” Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones said. “He’s a great student and comes to work and gives his best every single day.”
Up next, the defending Region 7-3A champion Cherokee Bluff visits Gilmer on Friday in Ellijay.
Two years ago, Smith had his breakout performance as a first-year player for Cherokee Bluff, rushing for more than 200 yards at Gilmer.
Since then, the introverted and mild-mannered leader of the Bears’ offense has been nearly impossible to get off the field, even with a painful sports hernia injury his junior season that wasn’t diagnosed until after the season ended.
Because of four blowout wins, so far, Smith’s touches (43) have been limited for the Bears to keep him fresh for the six-game stretch of region play and the playoffs in 2021.
However, everyone knows he is a workhorse who is capable of toting the ball as many times as needed to win.
Smith played through the pain and rushed for more than 1,000 yards during Cherokee Bluff’s second-round run to the playoffs in 2020.
This season, he wants to see the fourth-year program in Flowery Branch make it even deeper in the Class 3A state tournament.
“This year, we want to keep the momentum going at Cherokee Bluff,” Smith said. “I like having the underdog mentality.”
Originally from Augusta, Smith’s assimilation into the backfield for the Bears was rapid when he arrived in time for the 2019 season.
His goal in high school was to be a wide receiver and cornerback.
However, one early play in practice made it obvious that Smith would be an asset at running back.
New to Cherokee Bluff, Smith remembers catching a pass on a bubble screen.
The blockers were there to do their job.
Then his football instinct kicked in.
“I trucked one of my teammates, who turned out to become one of my best friends,” Smith said.
His first game, as a sophomore, Smith suited up with the junior varsity squad and rushed for three scores against Chestatee, before even knowing all his teammates and coaches names.
After two games on the JV squad, Jones knew it was time for him to get the call up to varsity.
It was a decision that paid off, as Smith rushed for 843 yards (almost 10 yards per carry) in 2019.
Then, as a junior, Smith became a staple for a senior-laden squad in 2020.
Now that Smith is a senior, Jones said his highly-touted running back has become more of an assertive leader, but still a favorite among his teammates for a soft-spoken and cheerful disposition — on and off the football field.
“Jayquan is a selfless leader, humble, passionate and makes all of his teammates better,” Jones said. “He is just an unbelievable young man.”
Despite all of his football success, Smith would just assume be at home with his parents and younger brother Bryson.
Jayquan has an older brother, Hensel Smith III, who is also a driven student, a senior at the University of Georgia, finishing an undergraduate degree in psychology.
The standout football player for the Bears said his most treasured memories and lessons learned have come from having a tight-knit family.
Smith said he didn’t start going with teammates for postgame meals until this season, previously preferring going home to talk about the game with his parents.
As a child, Smith said he started playing football at about age 5, in Augusta.
Right away, he hated it.
Soon, he was asking his father if he could quit.
“I hated it,” Smith said with a laugh. “I hated getting hit. I hated wearing pads. My dad told me to stick with it another year and I grew a lot before the next year.”
Quickly, as Smith grew and he started watching games on television, his love for the game grew.
Even though he has dreams of becoming prosperous in a lucrative career, his first goal is to play in the NFL.
Smith has never looked at himself as a football star, even though he will be a huge part of the Cherokee Bluff offense down the stretch.
Two weeks ago, he saw that the locker room wasn’t being cleaned after practice.
So without being asked, he pitched in and did all the tasks — sweeping, picking up clothes and wiping everything down — with one of his teammates.
And, if Smith sees a classmate being picked on in the hallways, he doesn’t hesitate to step in and speak up.
“Everyone has a different experience in school,” Smith said. “Nobody should be treated bad for being different.”